Oyster savers: Shellfish filter water, protect against storms, and taste amazing. Restoring their habitat is obvious

Zoom fatigue, the term used to describe the weariness, worry and exhaustion associated with overuse of virtual communications platforms, is real. As a freelance writer, I don’t have to put up with the endless barrage of virtual meeting requests that people with full-time employers face during this 21st century pandemic. Therefore, I always tend to look for opportunities to participate in discussions virtually that might not have been available to me before.

At the end of October, for example, I attended a Zoom meeting sponsored by the Maine Conservation Voters on The Basin Oyster Project. This is a collaborative effort to build a sustainable oyster reef in a deep-water tidal arm of the New Meadows River near Phippsburg. This online event was part of an ongoing series of talks focused on the environment, ranging from tribal sovereignty and the ban on aerial herbicides to the forgotten history of African Americans in Castine and the appropriate location of the solar farms throughout Maine. These sessions are open to the public and are recorded and stored on YouTube.

The Basin Oyster project was designed in 2017 by The Nature Conservancy, which owns a coastal property near the basin and has also supported similar reef restoration projects along the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana, in Pensacola Bay East in Florida. , off the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. , Swan Quarter National Wildlife Refuge and Nags Head Woods Preserve in North Carolina, in 10 tributaries of Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and in Great Bay in New Hampshire.

Wild oyster reefs have existed for thousands of years along the coast of Maine. They provided indigenous people with food and building materials. They have also provided ecological benefits by improving water quality (oysters are filter feeders), promoting ecosystem biodiversity and providing protection against coastal storm surges.

“Oyster reefs depend on dead shellfish and other live oysters to continue to build this habitat. If you remove the shells from the habitat, you destroy it, ”said Caitlin Cleaver, Basin Oyster Project collaborator and director of the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area. She explained to people watching the session that oyster reefs here in Maine and all along the American Atlantic coast have been decimated since the early 1900s by pollution, overfishing, invasive species and changes. climate-induced hydrological.

The Basin Oyster Project aims to release shellfish as well as live oysters to live on in order to revive all the beneficial ecosystem services offered by shellfish reefs. No one has yet tried restoring oyster reefs this far north.

First step when making oysters – peeling. Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Personal photographer

In New York Harbor, the successful Billion Oyster Project installed 14 reefs with the help of 10,000 volunteers, 100 city schools and 75 partner restaurants; the latter transported 1.5 million pounds of used shells recycled into the port. Likewise, the Basin Oyster Project enjoys the support of all sectors of the local community, including commercial oyster farmers, municipal conservation commissions, environmental research organizations and residents. Together, the group shines a light on the interplay between oyster farming, restoration of wild shellfish habitat and the coastal economy. In addition to establishing an oyster reef, the group wants to create an integrated socio-scientific model for coastal restoration that could be replicated along the coast.

From 2017 to 19, researchers at The Nature Conservancy deposited oyster (baby) spat on tiles and shells and placed them, unprotected by any supporting infrastructure, in the pond. The results of these early settlements have been positive, said Dot Kelly, a member of the Phippsburg Conservation Committee, the body that recently played a leading role in the Basin Oyster Project. This work proved that the oysters were viable in the basin. But without protection from predatory green crabs, the yield of mature oysters relative to the amount of spat deposited was very low.

In 2020, Kelly and around 30 coworkers began installing baby oysters on shells and growing them in the pond in floating bags like those used by commercial oyster farmers. The bags will protect them until they are bigger and less susceptible to green crabs. Marissa McMahan, a marine biologist who works for Manomet, a coastal ecology nonprofit with offices in Brunswick, will monitor the green crab population, biodiversity parameters and water quality before, during and after reef construction to assess reef benefits. Cleaver and a team of divers have been underwater to determine how the natural physical substrate will eventually support reef development, which the team hopes will take place in 2022.

What can you do to support this effort? Effective environmental conservation efforts like the Basin Oyster Project require broad community buy-in, Cleaver said. So first, buy as many farmed Maine oysters as possible to support the oyster industry. The more oysters you eat, the more oysters farmers will grow and the better the quality of the Gulf of Maine water to support wild oyster reefs. And sign up for the Basin Oyster Project newsletter to track its progress.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer, tester and cookery teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special”, an Islandport Press cookbook based on these columns. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

Columnist Christine Burns Rudalevige garnishes oysters with a mixture of herb and herb breadcrumbs to make Rockefeller oysters. Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Personal photographer

Maine Rockefeller oysters

Around 1889, New Orleans restaurateur Jules Alciatore developed this recipe because there was a shortage of snails but an abundance of Gulf of Mexico oysters. He named the rich, buttery appetizer after the richest man in America at the time, John D. Rockefeller. Alciatore never disclosed their exact recipe, but the general ingredients are oysters on the half-shell, herbs, breadcrumbs and butter. This is my interpretation, which I make when I find larger, deeply hollow Maine oysters. To help stabilize the open oysters in the pan, I use the removed top shells as balancing plates. These cooked oysters make a festive and impressive appetizer that can be made ahead, refrigerated for several hours, and baked in a very hot oven just before serving.

For 4 to 6 people as an aperitif

1/4 cup parsley leaves
1/4 cup arugula
1/4 cup baby spinach
2 tablespoons of tarragon leaves
2 tablespoons of fennel leaves
2 lemons
4 tablespoons of salted butter
1/4 cup finely diced fennel
1/4 cup finely diced shallot
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 cups panko breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon Maine sea salt
24 large Maine oysters on half-shell

Place the parsley, arugula, spinach, tarragon and fennel leaves on a large cutting board. Use a large, sharp knife to chop them well. You should end up with about 1/4 cup of chopped herbs. Zest the lemons. Mix the zest with the herbs and set aside. Cut the lemons into quarters and set aside.

In a medium skillet over low heat, melt the butter. Add the diced fennel and shallot, cook slowly until translucent, 6-7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the wine, increase the heat to medium and cook until half of the wine has evaporated, 3-4 minutes. Put out the fire. Stir in the breadcrumbs and salt. Stir in the herb mixture.

Arrange the oysters on the half-shell on a large rimmed baking sheet. Top each oyster with a heaping teaspoon of the herb breadcrumb mixture. At this point, you can refrigerate the prepared oysters for up to 4 hours.

Twenty minutes before serving the oysters, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. When the oven is hot, slide the baking sheet into the oven. Cook until filling is golden and juices are bubbling, 10-12 minutes. Oysters are completely cooked when they reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees F. You can use an instant-read thermometer to be sure.

Serve the oysters piping hot with the reserved lemon wedges.


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